As a member of the track team, my first experience with the Penn track team was outside on a brisk sunny day in late August. I’ll never forget how nice it felt to breathe the fresh air of Franklin Field, run freely with my teammates and meet athletes from other teams.
However, as it became colder towards Thanksgiving break, we moved to an insulated facility over the Dunning-Cohen Champions Field. Oddly, this felt pretty much the opposite, as the climate was much less comfortable and we didn’t interact with teams outside of our own.
Ironically, I feel that I often think about the Penn “bubble” in the same way that I do with the bubble I practice in. A restrictive climate in which I don’t interact with the same people I so often shared a space with simply because weren’t part of my “immediate” community.
When it comes to doing well in classes, applying to (and staying in) clubs, maintaining my friendships and continuing to do my best on the track team, I don’t just lose the expectations I had when I came in as a freshman, but also myself.
So how do we break out of the culture of struggling to see outside of Penn and what it has to offer? Well, the second I stepped out of the bubble-like air structure for practice, I received a breath of fresh air.
Often, when we talk about stepping outside of the Penn bubble we mention going into Center City, to more sporting events or even sleeping more. While true, it’s hard to do these things and still maintain an order of basic things such as homework without falling too far behind.
So what works? For me, things clicked when I went back home over break. When I sat with my family members and laughed over winter vacation, I looked around and realized that the people around me loved me for me. Sadly, this was a feeling that I had not felt for a while. It didn’t matter what my political ideology was, how fast I could run or what board I was on, I was just “Cal,” and that was more than enough for them to bombard me with food, love and a few too many hugs.
When I came back to campus this semester, in light of everything that has happened, I’ve done my best to see people beyond the Penn bubble (such as their contributions, major or hobbies) and made efforts to search for who they truly are and what they love to do. How many times have you gotten food with a friend and talked about something other than Penn or Donald Trump?
But this doesn’t stop at home. For example, Ms. Holmes, who works as a security guard at my dorm, Harrison College House, effortlessly helps me check in with myself, even on the days I feel like I already have everything together. “Cal from Cal’s Corner!” she always says. We talk, laugh and even dance a little sometimes, because the best times I’ve experienced in life aren’t on my resume.
When it comes to the Penn bubble, we forget just how many people outside of us experience what we experience, walk through the same halls we walk through and eat the same food we do.
For example, as there are rumors about the status of Fresh Grocer, it’s a shame that we discuss what could possibly replace it without once thinking about the many people who depend on it to provide for their families. Even last year, when a Pottruck worker whom many of us had seen and interacted with tragically died, we didn’t mourn his loss the same way we would have for a student. We never even ask why that is.
I firmly believe that the first step in overcoming the Penn bubble is to realize you are in it. For me, I have realized that it is either I overcome the Penn bubble and the toxic culture it enhances, or the Penn bubble and its toxic culture overcomes me.
So, call your parents not because you “have to” but because you want to. Try to eat breakfast. Relax your shoulders. Treat the janitor with the same respect as the CEO not because it’s trendy but because there is no difference between them.
This clicked when I checked in with those who know me best and started to value the workers across campus the same way I did my professors. I encourage you all to try it out and do the same. Take the time to step out of the Penn bubble; it might just be a breath of fresh air.
CALVARY ROGERS is a College sophomore from Rochester, N.Y., studying political science. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Cal’s Corner” usually appears every Wednesday.